The All-Star break is over and October is long gone. More than half the games have been played, and most teams have a pretty good indication of where they’re at. The playoff picture is far from set in both conferences, which speaks to what a should be an exciting push to the finish. The next big event on the NHL calendar is the trade deadline, and now that all of the All-Star hoopla is over, most of the attention is focused on that. Who will be buyers, who will be sellers? Will there be any blockbuster deals? For the Edmonton Oilers, there’s a high mountain to climb to get into the playoffs, but sometimes the unofficial second half of the season can feel like a fresh start. Unless a team has already been mathematically eliminated from the post-season picture, there’s always a chance, and every player in that dressing room needs to believe it isn’t over, no matter what the hockey pundits say.
This season has been difficult for the Oilers to say the least. A strong start preceded by lengthy losing streaks, and numerous injuries to key players have derailed Edmonton’s hopes at making the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Many have already counted them out, especially considering the possibilities of making some significant trades that would be geared toward future growth, rather than success this season. The names that have been bandied about in trade scenarios are mostly Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner, although Hemsky’s name has been the subject of rumors for a while now. The difference this season is that he’s a UFA on July 1st, and if Edmonton has no intention of re-signing him, they may as well get as much as they can for him at the deadline. The skilled yet egnimatic winger has been a bit of a disappointment this season with just 4 goals and 19 points in 36 games. Potential buyers are likely hoping that Hemsky’s recent shoulder troubles are behind him, because a player with that type of skill would fit in very nicely in a top-six role on a contending team.
Gagner, who is an RFA, and just 22 years old, will likely be a valued commodity for contenders. He has just 5 goals this season, but putting him in a situation with stronger players might be the change he needs to flourish. Gagner likes Edmonton, but the team hasn’t indicated anything about an extension as of yet. There has been some thought that the Oilers would like to hold onto him, but if the deal is attractive and beneficial enough, Gagner could find himself on the move.
With all the trade talk aside, the Oilers still have games to play, starting with tomorrow night’s tilt with the Colorado Avalanche. The Oilers are 14 points out of a playoff spot, but they are slowly getting healthier. Defenceman Tom Gilbert is said to be back soon as well as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Taylor Hall and all-star Jordan Eberle are healthy and looking for strong second halfs. No matter how insurmountable it may look, good luck trying to convince a hockey player that there’s no point in trying. The team will be looking to give everything they have to gain some ground in the tight Western Conference. Getting some bodies back will certainly help, and it’s important for management to actually see if the team they’ve assembled can compete. The Oilers can only control their own fate, no matter how dismal the road ahead looks to those of us on the outside.